Monday, October 25, 2010

Political prisoners in China

Political prisoners are those who act within the scope of law, who are non-violent, but are jailed by the government. In a country with rule of law, political prisoners should never exist. Therefore the imprisonment of people for their speech or belief is a reflection of repressive regime.

China has the largest number of political prisoners in the world. The world learned about Liu Xiaobo in jail due to Nobel peace prize. But many people like him, more than 1,000 political prisoners, are currently languishing in jail. Who are these 1,000 people? There are 6 major groups: (1) Dissidents (2) NGO activist (3) Journalist and lawyers (4) People who try to practice their religion (5) Petitioners due to injustice (6) Ethnic minority activists.

1. Dissidents who speak out for political reform. 
    This group of people are very similar to Liu Xiaobo. They are intellectuals, writers and political activists who write and speak out for political change. Their seek peaceful change by directly demanding the government to respect human rights. They are jailed simply because their speech and practicing freedom of assembly.

2. Activists who help unprivileged people
    Hu Jia is such an example. He helped to expose AIDS epidemic in Anhui villages. In China, these group of people are called "rights defenders". They are a growing number of people who are speaking out the truth. Huang Xi who set up a website to help people with no resort to legal system. He was arrested and still in jail today.  

3. Journalists and lawyers (and other professionals) who expose truth
    According to Reporters without Borders, China is the world’s biggest prison for journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents. RWB's annual report of 2010 tells that there 31 journalists and 74 netizens currently imprisoned in China for ambiguous charges such as "inciting subversion" and "revealing state secrets." This is an increase from 28 jailed journalists reported by Human Rights Watch in 2009.

4. People who practice their religious belief
   1) Falun Gong practitioner
       Since 1999 when this group of people were labeled as "sect" by then Chinese president Jiang Zeming (after their large-scale peaceful protest), this group has been under severe persecution. Anyone who practices Falun Gong is forced to renounce it, otherwise they are detained and jailed. More than 3413Falun Gong practitioners have died in detention due to torture. Here is a list of all those who died in detention with names and reports (See also the corresponding Chinese report).  The persecution continues. In the last 6 months alone, 776 Falun Gong members were arrested around China, according to report

   2) Christians
       People who practice Christian belief outside the government-sanctioned church are facing harassment and detention. See this report.

   3) Tibetan Buddhist
 Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was taken into "protection" by the Chinese government in 1995 at the age of 6, just days after being recognized by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama. Now age 21, he is still a political prisoner.

5. Petitioners who seek government help
     Large score of petitioner come to Beijing to seek justice from the only government office that claims to be the last resort for justice. Yet, they are arrested, beaten and even put in asylum to keep them out sight of the public. According to, police detained more than 1000 petitioners in Beijing in one night on September 28 this year.

6. Ethnic minority activists who engage in peaceful protest
   1) Tibetan activists
       The persecution of this group is well documented by exile Tibetan people. Here is a very recent report: In April 2010, 8 teenage monks were arrested for taking part in protests of demanding the Dalai Lama’s return.

   2) Uyghur minority activists
        On May 19, 2008, Pastor Lou Yuanqi, a prominent house church leader in the town of Qingshuihe, Xinjiang province was detained and later charged with "inciting separatism."

The long list of political prisoners suggest the Chinese government's effort of suppressing any voice. In a repressive regime, the only way to control people for speaking truth is putting them to jail. Nobel peace prize shed light on the this dark side of China. How can such a brutal regime continue to exist and trample all its own laws on basic rights? Inside China, people are continuing to fight for their rights. The government will not stop until it yields to pressure from all sides.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Correlation between freedom and national wealth

How is a country's freedom level related to its national wealth? People hope that democracy will automatically lead to prosperity. In reality, we see many democratic nations such as India and Bolivia lag behind in their economic development. Using data from Freedom House and World Bank (see references), I plotted the following correlation graph between freedom index and GDP per capita (constant 2000 US$) for 183 countries in the world. The freedom index (see detailed explanation in my last blog)  ranges from 1 to 7, with 1 being most free and 7 being most repressive. GDP per capita ranges from $97 for Congo to $52,748 for Luxembourg.

The 9 oil exporting countries (Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Brunei,Oman, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Equatorial Guinea) are apparently outliers to this chart. Their high income is combined with highly restrictive society. Singapore is another outlier, which can be explained by the fact that it is a tiny country made up of a single city. If we remove the 9 oil nations and Singapore from this chart, we will see a clear trend of higher GDP per capita associated with higher freedom. Countries with high GPD per capita more than $10000 are all free (with freedom index <=2.5). In fact, most non-free countries (freedom index >=5.5) have GDP per capita less than $3000.

For those poor countries with GDP per capita less than $3000, the freeman level ranges widely. Below is a plot of countries in this range. China has GDP per capita (constant 2000 US$) at $2206, and its freedom index is 6.5. 

The above graph does not give us insight on where China will move as its income goes up. But fortunately when we plot out the map for countries with GDP per capital between $3000 and $10000, the picture is much clearer. The worst country in this group has its freedom index at 5.5. It is still much better than what Chinese people enjoy today. This graph also suggests that the freedom situation gets better as a nation's income goes up.  When a nation's GDP per capita is higher than $6,000, the freedom improves to 4 or less. This gives us hope that as China continues its economic growth, the civil society will keep developing. The rising middle class will presses for more freedom, and the government is on a irreversible trend of opening up.

Finally, when a country reaches income level of more than $10,000, then it is definitely free. By this time, democratic system is established and a civil society is vibrant. There is no way to turn it back to any form of dictatorship. One good example is the United States. Right after "9-11", there was a hush on any voice that is criticizing the government. People were supposed to unite around the government to fight the terrorists. The Bush government also started its surveillance program on citizens, and many Muslim men were questioned and even detained. For a while, it seems the civil liberty will leave American people. But soon people start to speak out. Even though the mainstream media is still on the side of the government, independent movies, radio programs and books are created to spread the truth. Eventrually the tide is turned and Obama was elected to office in 2008 on change ticket. (Apparently Obama did not turn out as he promised, but it is a different story.)

The correlation between economic prosperity and freedom of a nation gives us a lot of hope. With 8% annual GDP growth rate, China will reach the threshold of $3000 GDP per capita in 4 years. Big change is coming, and we will all be witness to this historical moment. The time has come to ask each of us: Are we a bystander or participant?

Data download: Freedom index and GDP per capita of all countries

1. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2010 survey, freedom index of countries in the world
2. World Bank, World Development Indicators 2010, GDP per capita (constant 2000 US$).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Freedom map of the world

Freedom House conducts annual survey on the democratic situation of every country in the world. Based on Freedom house's 2010 report, out of 194 nations in the world today, there are only 47 countries that are not free. The definition of "not free" is based on a precise freedom index that ranges from 1 to 7. Countries with freedom index 1 to 2.5 are defined as free, those with freedom index 3 to 5 are partially free, and those with freedom index of 5.5 to 7 are not free. China has freedom index 6.5, a little better than North Korea (who has index of 7).

The freedom index is calculated from two indexes: political rights and civil liberty. Political rights covers electoral process, multi-party system, and government accountability. Civil liberty covers freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, independent judiciary, and personal autonomy. Each of these aspects  are broken down sub-areas and evaluated with an index score. Specifically,
Political rights include
A. Electoral Process
   1. Free elections of state head 
   2. Free elections of legislative representatives
   3. Fair polling and ballots
B. Political Pluralism and Participation
   1. The right to organize different political parties 
   2. Significant opposition power
   3. Free from domination by the military, foreign powers, or religious hierarchies
   4. Participation of cultural, ethnic, religious, and minority groups
C. Functioning of Government
   1. Freely elected representatives determine the policies of the government
   2. Free from pervasive corruption
   3. Government accountability and transparency

Civil liberties include
A. Freedom of Expression and Belief
   1. Free press (media) 
   2. Free religious expression
   3. Academic freedom, free of extensive political indoctrination
   4. Free private discussion
B. Associational and Organizational Rights
   1. Freedom of assembly and demonstration
   2. Freedom of political organization (including political parties and civic organizations)
   3. Free trade unions
C. Rule of Law
   1. Independent judiciary
   2. Rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters
   3. Protection from police terror, unjustified imprisonment, or torture. Freedom from war and insurgencies.
   4. Equality under the law
D. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights
   1. Freedom of travel, residence and employment. 
   2. The right to own property and establish private businesses. 
   3. Personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family
   4. Equality of opportunity

Based on each country's score, we can plot a world map of freedom. Surprisingly, all the non-free countries are geographically linked! The same thing can be said about the free countries.

China and many of its neighbor are non-free. This continuous land stretches westward to central Asia, Middle East, and then down to Africa. China has two most glaringly non-free neighbors: North Korea and Burma.This  is somewhat worrisome. On the other hand, China also has neighbors that are free: Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, and India, to name a few.

We hope this map will change color one day, when all the purple is replaced by green, when the land of China shines with free light. How soon will that day come? I believe it is not far away.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Charter 08: The document that landed Liu Xiaobo in jail

I. Preamble

This year marks 100 years since China’s first Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the promulgation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since the Chinese government signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Having experienced a prolonged period of human rights disasters and challenging and tortuous struggles, the awakening Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, republicanism, and constitutional government make up the basic institutional framework of modern politics. A “modernization” bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives people of their rights, rots away their humanity, and destroys their dignity. Where is China headed in the 21st century? Will it continue with this “modernization” under authoritarian rule, or will it endorse universal values, join the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic form of government? This is an unavoidable decision.

The tremendous historic changes of the mid-19th century exposed the decay of the traditional Chinese autocratic system and set the stage for the greatest transformation China had seen in several thousand years. The Self-Strengthening Movement [1861–1895] sought improvements in China’s technical capability by acquiring manufacturing techniques, scientific knowledge, and military technologies from the West; China’s defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War [1894–1895] once again exposed the obsolescence of its system; the Hundred Days’ Reform [1898] touched upon the area of institutional innovation, but ended in failure due to cruel suppression by the die-hard faction [at the Qing court]. The Xinhai Revolution [1911], on the surface, buried the imperial system that had lasted for more than 2,000 years and established Asia’s first republic. But, because of the particular historical circumstances of internal and external troubles, the republican system of government was short lived, and autocracy made a comeback.

The failure of technical imitation and institutional renewal prompted deep reflection among our countrymen on the root cause of China’s cultural sickness, and the ensuing May Fourth [1919] and New Culture Movements [1915–1921] under the banner of “science and democracy.” But the course of China’s political democratization was forcibly cut short due to frequent civil wars and foreign invasion. The process of a constitutional government began again after China’s victory in the War of Resistance against Japan [1937–1945], but the outcome of the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists plunged China into the abyss of modern-day totalitarianism. The “New China” established in 1949 is a “people’s republic” in name, but in reality it is a “party domain.” The ruling party monopolizes all the political, economic, and social resources. It has created a string of human rights disasters, such as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, June Fourth, and the suppression of unofficial religious activities and the rights defense movement, causing tens of millions of deaths, and exacting a disastrous price from both the people and the country.

The “Reform and Opening Up” of the late 20th century extricated China from the pervasive poverty and absolute totalitarianism of the Mao Zedong era, and substantially increased private wealth and the standard of living of the common people. Individual economic freedom and social privileges were partially restored, a civil society began to grow, and calls for human rights and political freedom among the people increased by the day. Those in power, while implementing economic reforms aimed at marketization and privatization, also began to shift from a position of rejecting human rights to one of gradually recognizing them. In 1997 and 1998, the Chinese government signed two important international human rights treaties. In 2004, the National People’s Congress amended the Constitution to add that “[the State] respects and guarantees human rights.” And this year, the government has promised to formulate and implement a “National Human Rights Action Plan.” But so far, this political progress has largely remained on paper: there are laws, but there is no rule of law; there is a constitution, but no constitutional government; this is still the political reality that is obvious to all. The ruling elite continues to insist on its authoritarian grip on power, rejecting political reform. This has caused official corruption, difficulty in establishing rule of law, the absence of of human rights, moral bankruptcy, social polarization, abnormal economic development, destruction of both the natural and cultural environment, no institutionalized protection of citizens’ rights to freedom, property, and the pursuit of happiness, the constant accumulation of all kinds of social conflicts, and the continuous surge of resentment. In particular, the intensification of antagonism between the government and the people, and the dramatic increase in mass incidents, indicate a catastrophic loss of control in the making, suggesting that the backwardness of the current system has reached a point where change must occur.
II. Our Fundamental Concepts
At this historical juncture that will decide the future destiny of China, it is necessary to reflect on the modernization process of the past hundred and some years and reaffirm the following concepts:

Freedom: Freedom is at the core of universal values. The rights of speech, publication, belief, assembly, association, movement, to strike, and to march and demonstrate are all the concrete expressions of freedom. Where freedom does not flourish, there is no modern civilization to speak of.

Human Rights: Human rights are not bestowed by a state; they are inherent rights enjoyed by every person. Guaranteeing human rights is both the most important objective of a government and the foundation of the legitimacy of its public authority; it is also the intrinsic requirement of the policy of “putting people first.” China’s successive political disasters have all been closely related to the disregard for human rights by the ruling establishment. People are the mainstay of a nation; a nation serves its people; government exists for the people.

Equality: The integrity, dignity, and freedom of every individual, regardless of social status, occupation, gender, economic circumstances, ethnicity, skin color, religion, or political belief, are equal. The principles of equality before the law for each and every person and equality in social, economic, cultural, and political rights of all citizens must be implemented.

Republicanism: Republicanism is “joint governing by all, peaceful coexistence,” that is, the separation of powers for checks and balances and the balance of interests; that is, a community comprising many diverse interests, different social groups, and a plurality of cultures and faiths, seeking to peacefully handle public affairs on the basis of equal participation, fair competition, and joint discussion.

Democracy: The most fundamental meaning is that sovereignty resides in the people and the government elected by the people. Democracy has the following basic characteristics:(1) The legitimacy of political power comes from the people; the source of political power is the people. (2) Political control is exercised through choices made by the people. (3) Citizens enjoy the genuine right to vote; officials in key positions at all levels of government must be the product of elections at regular intervals. (4) Respect the decisions of the majority while protecting the basic human rights of the minority. In a word, democracy is the modern public instrument for creating a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Constitutionalism: Constitutionalism is the principle of guaranteeing basic freedoms and rights of citizens as defined by the constitution through legal provisions and the rule of law, restricting and defining the boundaries of government power and conduct, and providing appropriate institutional capability to carry this out. In China, the era of imperial power is long gone, never to return; in the world at large, the authoritarian system is on the wane; citizens ought to become the true masters of their states. The fundamental way out for China lies only in dispelling the subservient notion of reliance on “enlightened rulers” and “upright officials,” promoting public consciousness of rights as fundamental and participation as a duty, and putting into practice freedom, engaging in democracy, and respecting the law.
III. Our Basic Positions
Thus, in the spirit of responsible and constructive citizens, we put forth the following specific positions regarding various aspects of state administration, citizens’ rights and interests, and social development:

1. Constitutional Amendment: Based on the aforementioned values and concepts, amend the Constitution, deleting clauses in the current Constitution that are not in conformity with the principle that sovereignty resides in the people, so that the Constitution can truly become a document that guarantees human rights and allows for the exercise of public power, and become the enforceable supreme law that no individual, group, or party can violate, establishing the foundation of the legal authority for democratizing China.

2. Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances: Construct a modern government that separates powers and maintains checks and balances among them, that guarantees the separation of legislative, judicial, and executive powers. Establish the principle of statutory administration and responsible government to prevent excessive expansion of executive power; government should be responsible to taxpayers; establish the system of separation of powers and checks and balances between the central and local governments; the central power must be clearly defined and mandated by the Constitution, and the localities must exercise full autonomy.

3. Legislative Democracy: Legislative bodies at all levels should be created through direct elections; maintain the principle of fairness and justice in making law; and implement legislative democracy.

4. Judicial Independence: The judiciary should transcend partisanship, be free from any interference, exercise judicial independence, and guarantee judicial fairness; it should establish a constitutional court and a system to investigate violations of the Constitution, and uphold the authority of the Constitution. Abolish as soon as possible the Party’s Committees of Political and Legislative Affairs at all levels that seriously endanger the country’s rule of law. Prevent private use of public instruments.

5. Public Use of Public Instruments: Bring the armed forces under state control. Military personnel should render loyalty to the Constitution and to the country. Political party organizations should withdraw from the armed forces; raise the professional standards of the armed forces. All public employees including the police should maintain political neutrality. Abolish discrimination in hiring of public employees based on party affiliation; there should be equality in hiring regardless of party affiliation.

6. Human Rights Guarantees: Guarantee human rights in earnest; protect human dignity. Set up a Commission on Human Rights, responsible to the highest organ of popular will, to prevent government abuse of public authority and violations of human rights, and, especially, to guarantee the personal freedom of citizens. No one shall suffer illegal arrest, detention, subpoena, interrogation, or punishment. Abolish the Reeducation-Through-Labor system.

7. Election of Public Officials: Fully implement the system of democratic elections to realize equal voting rights based on “one person, one vote.” Systematically and gradually implement direct elections of administrative heads at all levels. Regular elections based on free competition and citizen participation in elections for legal public office are inalienable basic human rights.

8. Urban-Rural Equality: Abolish the current urban-rural two-tier household registration system to realize the constitutional right of equality before the law for all citizens and guarantee the citizens’ right to move freely.

9. Freedom of Association: Guarantee citizens’ right to freedom of association. Change the current system of registration upon approval for community groups to a system of record-keeping. Lift the ban on political parties. Regulate party activities according to the Constitution and law; abolish the privilege of one-party monopoly on power; establish the principles of freedom of activities of political parties and fair competition for political parties; normalize and legally regulate party politics.

10. Freedom of Assembly: Freedoms to peacefully assemble, march, demonstrate, and express [opinions] are citizens’ fundamental freedoms stipulated by the Constitution; they should not be subject to illegal interference and unconstitutional restrictions by the ruling party and the government.

11. Freedom of Expression: Realize the freedom of speech, freedom to publish, and academic freedom; guarantee the citizens’ right to know and right to supervise [public institutions]. Enact a “News Law” and a “Publishing Law,” lift the ban on reporting, repeal the “crime of inciting subversion of state power” clause in the current Criminal Law, and put an end to punishing speech as a crime.

12. Freedom of Religion: Guarantee freedom of religion and freedom of belief, and implement separation of religion and state so that activities involving religion and faith are not subjected to government interference. Examine and repeal administrative statutes, administrative rules, and local statutes that restrict or deprive citizens of religious freedom; ban management of religious activities by administrative legislation. Abolish the system that requires that religious groups (and including places of worship) obtain prior approval of their legal status in order to register, and replace it with a system of record-keeping that requires no scrutiny.

13. Civic Education: Abolish political education and political examinations that are heavy on ideology and serve the one-party rule. Popularize civic education based on universal values and civil rights, establish civic consciousness, and advocate civic virtues that serve society.

14. Property Protection: Establish and protect private property rights, and implement a system based on a free and open market economy; guarantee entrepreneurial freedom, and eliminate administrative monopolies; set up a Committee for the Management of State-Owned Property, responsible to the highest organ of popular will; launch reform of property rights in a legal and orderly fashion, and clarify the ownership of property rights and those responsible; launch a new land movement, advance land privatization, and guarantee in earnest the land property rights of citizens, particularly the farmers.

15. Fiscal Reform: Democratize public finances and guarantee taxpayers’ rights. Set up the structure and operational mechanism of a public finance system with clearly defined authority and responsibilities, and establish a rational and effective system of decentralized financial authority among various levels of government; carry out a major reform of the tax system, so as to reduce tax rates, simplify the tax system, and equalize the tax burden. Administrative departments may not increase taxes or create new taxes at will without sanction by society obtained through a public elective process and resolution by organs of popular will. Pass property rights reform to diversify and introduce competition mechanisms into the market; lower the threshold for entry into the financial field and create conditions for the development of privately-owned financial enterprises, and fully energize the financial system.

16. Social Security: Establish a social security system that covers all citizens and provides them with basic security in education, medical care, care for the elderly, and employment.

17. Environmental Protection: Protect the ecological environment, promote sustainable development, and take responsibility for future generations and all humanity; clarify and impose the appropriate responsibilities that state and government officials at all levels must take to this end; promote participation and oversight by civil society groups in environmental protection.

18. Federal Republic: Take part in maintaining regional peace and development with an attitude of equality and fairness, and create an image of a responsible great power. Protect the free systems of Hong Kong and Macau .On the premise of freedom and democracy, seek a reconciliation plan for the mainland and Taiwan through equal negotiations and cooperative interaction. Wisely explore possible paths and institutional blueprints for the common prosperity of all ethnic groups, and establish the Federal Republic of China under the framework of a democractic and constitutional government.

19. Transitional Justice: Restore the reputation of and give state compensation to individuals, as well as their families, who suffered political persecution during past political movements; release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience; release all people convicted for their beliefs; establish a Commission for Truth Investigation to find the truth of historical events, determine responsibility, and uphold justice; seek social reconciliation on this foundation.
IV. Conclusion
China, as a great nation of the world, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and a member of the Human Rights Council, ought to make its own contribution to peace for humankind and progress in human rights. Regrettably, however, of all the great nations of the world today, China alone still clings to an authoritarian way of life and has, as a result, created an unbroken nchain of human rights disasters and social crises, held back the development of the Chinese people, and hindered the progress of human civilization. This situation must change! We cannot put off political democratization reforms any longer. Therefore, in the civic spirit of daring to take action, we are issuing Charter 08. We hope that all Chinese citizens who share this sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether officials or common people and regardless of social background, will put aside our differences to seek common ground and come to take an active part in this citizens’ movement, to promote the great transformation of Chinese society together, so that we can soon establish a free, democratic, and constitutional nation, fulfilling the aspirations and dreams that our countrymen have been pursuing tirelessly for more than a hundred years.

[Original Chinese version 中文]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reflection on Liu Xiaobo and Nobel Peace Prize

The winning of Nobel peace prize by a jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo has put China in the spotlight for the past 2 weeks. For many people in the world, it is shocking to see such contrast of a growing economy and self-claimed "modern" society and a brutally repressive government. For those who are familiar with China and its struggle with democracy for the last 30 years, it is not a surprise. From the tanks and guns on Tian-an men square, to today's jailing of more than 1,000 dissidents merely for their speech and religious belief, the Chinese government is inheriting a long tradition. The brutality is characteristic of a communist government, due to its long advocacy of violence and trampling of individual rights in the name of revolution.

For those of us who came out of China after participating in the memorable 1989 student movement, Liu Xiaobo's award is especially a joyful and tearing moment. None of us can forget the long march to local factories to persuade workers to go on strike. Neither can we forget the blockade we put on the streets and bridge to force government into action. We listened to moving speeches on the street, calling for reform. We protested in front of the provincial government building, demanding dialog. Almost all of the students around the country came out at that time. Many government employees and local citizens joined our march. We were so united and so excited, and we felt a free China is almost palpable. But overnight after June 4th, all of our dreams were crushed. Soldiers and tanks moved onto Beijing streets, student leaders were singled out at all universities for punishment, participating workers were arrested and many were executed. China reverted to a dark age and such darkness continues until today.

Liu Xiaobo became famous in the days leading to June 4th, particularly among us student protesters. He was older than us, as he was already a university faculty and established himself through his writings. When he joined our movement, we felt a jolt of support and was also bewildered by his actions. For us young colleague students, we had nothing to lose at that time. It was a little surprising that someone who is older to join us, someone who risked losing his job and comfortable life to join us. Thus he won our admiration. After the June 4 massacre, Liu Xiaobo was arrested and pronounced a "black hand" behind student protest. He was sentenced to prison. Since then, Liu Xiaobo's name disappeared from public eyes.

More than 10 years passed since Liu Xiaobo's name re-entered my world. I started to read posts on Chinese Pen website (, a unique website that provides refreshing voice about today's China. Most articles are calm and observant. The authors are mostly inside China and they give us first-hand account of events and problems unfolding in China. Among all the authors, Liu Xiaobo carries the most daring and penetrating writing. I enjoy reading his criticism on China's action before Olympic games, his analysis on communist party's repressive approach, and his bold call for more freedom in China. At the end of each article, there is always his signature: "Liu Xiaobo, from Beijing, China". Whenever I read that signature, I felt a mixture joy and worry. I was happy that he brought us the first-hand account in the heart of China and he spoke his mind inside such a repressive country. But I was also worried that he would incur the government's wrath. Unfortunately, my worry panned out. His outspokenness has finally got on the nerve of the government, and he was put in jail for another 11 years.

I feel deeply grateful for the Nobel committee for bravely picking out Liu Xiaobo and put China's repression under broad daylight. The award to Liu is acknowledgment for all those fighting for democracy inside China. They incur great personal loss. Some even lost their lives. But the world does not forget about them. The world is not silent any more.

For each day that Liu Xiaobo is still in prison, in his small cell to endure the suffering of deprivation, we need to work, to fight and to speak out for freedom. Maybe democracy does not appear in one day, but it will come someday. From now on, Liu Xiaobo has become a symbol, a lightening bolt, and a torch for all of us to carry on. With him, we unite and work for a democratic China where 1.3 billion people will no longer live in fear and repression.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The next step for China’s democracy

For the last two days, I was in ecstasy. The Nobel peace prize was awarded to a Chinese dissident in jail. The hard struggle for democracy in China is finally recognized by the outside world. This tells remarkable power of information, of persistent fight for an ideal and of good-hearted people around the world who step up and support each other. I was also very happy with the positive response from people inside China, where joyful words and excitement can be felt in every place that is allowed. The Chinese people identified with student movement during Tiananmen Square protest and they are proud that Liu receives this internationally recognized prize.

However, today I get sobered. I observed that new blogs on Chinese websites regarding Nobel peace prize were taken down after a short time. I noticed that all major newspaper and websites are still silent on this issue. Liu Xiaobo’s wife is under house arrest, and several people who celebrated this event were detained for up to 8 days. There is no due legal process. There is no freedom of expression. There is only wanton police force and repression. The government essentially controls all media outlet including all websites, and all the links to outside world. How can any change happen? How can a democratic movement take shape in this harsh environment?

A successful democratic movement requires a party, or at least a strong organization. In South Africa, it was the National Party that led the charge against the existing system. In Poland, it was the Union. Without a strong organization, all the social forces are scattered around and efforts are dissipated. Today, China does not have a strong opposition party or organization. Liu Xiaobo was able to collect only 303 signatures for Charter 08. In addition, those who signed this document are intellectuals: writers, lawyers or educators. They are not real political organizers. A movement needs energetic mass and people who devotes to ground-level work to organize people together. We need also young people and passionate advocates to join this force.

The communist party, with its vast network and control of social resources, is a formidable power in China. However, they are also very fragile. Public opinion, if allowed to express on the web, can turn around a verdict, or even force the ousting of local officials. The internet has thus become a battleground for public opinion and basic facts. Given that the Chinese government is moving on the direction for a small portion of population against majority of people, it has to resort to lies and repression to maintain the governance. Thus the government will maintain tight control on the Internet, the cell phone network, or anything that disseminates information to the mass.

The battle of information will continue. The breakthrough for the democratic movement will come when the information can no longer be blockaded by the government, and truth can reach people in a short time.